The Alan Sondheim Mail Archive

---------- Forwarded message ----------
Date: Thu, 17 Apr 2008 08:33:53 -0700
From: amy king <>
Reply-To: UB Poetics discussion group <POETICS@LISTSERV.BUFFALO.EDU>
Subject: Aime Cesaire, voice of French Black pride, dies

Thu 17 Apr 2008, 13:18 GMT
By Astrid Wendlandt

PARIS (Reuters) - French Caribbean poet Aime Cesaire,founding father of the "negritude" movement that celebrated blackconsciousness, died in his native Martinique, France'sMinistry of Culture said on Thursday.

Cesaire, 94, who was mayor of the island's main city Fort-de-France for morethan half a century, was admitted to hospital last week suffering from heartand other problems.

His writings offered insight into how France imposedits culture on its citizens of different origins in the early part of the 20thCentury.

The theme still resonates in French politics today, as thecountry continues to struggle to integrate many of its residents of African andNorth African origin.

In 2005, Cesaire refused to meet then French InteriorMinister Nicolas Sarkozy (now French president) over concerns that Sarkozy'sconservative UMP party had pushed for a law which proposed to recognise thepositive legacy of French colonial rule. The law was eventually repealed.

Cesaire and African intellectual Leopold Senghor -- laterpresident of Senegal-- founded "The Black Student" in 1934, a journal that encouragedpeople to develop black identity.


The Caribbean writer rose to fame with his "Notebook ofa Return to the Native Land", written inthe late 1930s, in which he says "my negritude is neither tower norcathedral, it plunges into the red flesh of the soil."

His poems expressed the degradation of black people in the Caribbean and describe the rediscovery of an Africansense of self. In his "Discourse on Colonialism", first published in1950, Cesaire compared the relationship between the coloniser and colonisedwith the Nazis and their victims.

He was a mentor to fellow Martinican author Frantz Fanon,and their anti-colonial writings were a major influence in the headyintellectual climate of the 1960s and 1970s in France.

The negritude movement was a counterpart to the Black Pridemovement in the United States,though it has been criticised for not being radical enough.

Cesaire was also a friend of the French surrealist poetAndre Breton who had encouraged him to become a major voice of Surrealism.

Cesaire's anti-colonial rhetoric did not prevent him from havinga long-lasting political career.

After becoming mayor of Fort-de-France in 1945 at the age of 32, hewas elected deputy of parliament a year later, a post he held until the early1990s.

A graduate of the prestigious French Ecole NormaleSuperieure -- unusual for a black Martinican in the 1930s -- he remained amember of the French communist party until the Soviet Hungarian repression of1956.

Cesaire was born in 1913 in the small town of Basse-Pointe in Martinique.He married Suzanne Roussi in 1937, a gifted writer in her own right, with whomhe had six children.


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